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Why You Should Think Twice About Taking Oral Contraceptives Pre IVF Treatment

Posted May 06 2013 12:00am

While reading through the latest edition of Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology I came across a study, reporting that the common practice of using oral contraceptives pre IVF cycles, could decrease a woman's chance of getting pregnant. 

You may ask why use oral contraceptives pre IVF treatment in the first place? Why would you take birth control when trying to get pregnant?

Good question. The common reason for using oral contraceptives is that they improve timing. Improved timing means that
    ·         The time of ovulation is known
    ·         Since the timing of ovulation is known, hormone treatment can be administered at the correct part of the women’s cycle for optimal effect
    ·         Stress is reduced (a believed factor for success in the IVF process) as exact timing for egg retrieval and fertilization is known
Having good timing, however, is perhaps not the most important factor for IVF success. What is more important is that the woman has a good quality and quantity of eggs (oocytes) available for implantation – a factor that is being crippled by the use of oral contraceptives pre cycle.

The study looked at the number of eggs that a group of 43 young egg donors produced when taking oral contraceptives pre IVF cycle, vs. when not taking the oral contraception.

Those egg donors who took oral contraception, produced on average around 11 eggs after ovarian stimulation. The group that did not produced around 16.

This study will surely challenge the routine practice of administering oral contraceptives as a preparation for IVF. Especially for those with diminished ovarian reserve (DOR).

Diminished ovarian reserve negatively affects female fertility, as the eggs produced each ovulation cycle are low in number and of poor quality. The leading author of the study, David H. Barad, MD, MS, Director of Clinical ART and Senior Scientist at CHR , emphasized the fact that using oral contraceptives pre IVF cycle could be particularly damaging to the IVF chances of a woman with DOR 

“These negative effects on IVF outcomes may be even greater in women with diminished ovarian reserve”

Even with the best treatment, Dr. Barad highlighted that women with DOR

 “produce only a small number of eggs under the best of circumstances.”

Of course, as with any new research publication, results must be interpreted with caution. The women in the study were taking oral androgenic contraceptives, so the results are not representative of all oral contraceptives. The study was also the first of its kind; no doubt there will be more in depth ones to follow.

The lesson to take from this study? Don’t be afraid to question your fertility specialist if you feel that their practice is not in line with the latest research findings. Reproductive medicine is a new, ever changing, multifaceted area of medicine. Make sure you are getting the most up to date treatment.

For further information about this study please visit: 

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